Announced in August 2020 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the so-called Clean Networks Initiative seeks to decouple the United States from all Chinese telecommunications equipment and mobile communications technology, including mobile apps. It also extends to data servers and transmission network infrastructure like undersea cables - write Simon Lacey.
On its face, the initiative might appear to be a comprehensive approach to network security that seeks to leave no part of the digital economy untouched. Yet although it claims to be based on “internationally accepted digital trust standards”, this claim has never been substantiated since the initiative was announced.
If the initiative were, in fact, based on international standards, it could not discriminate so blatantly against equipment and technology from one country: China. Any international accepted digital trust standard would have to be based on some degree of consensus, and the global consensus among cybersecurity experts is that measures based on a simple “flag of origin” approach do nothing to improve network security. As one expert, Maria Farrell, explained “[the Initiative’s] specifics don’t add up terribly well [and] don’t speak to a good understanding of how networks function”.
The Administration’s approach also seems at odds with that of America’s own technology sector. In 2011, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a trade group that unites US hardware and software companies, released its Cybersecurity Principles for Industry and Government. This document articulates 12 principles that “seek to provide a useful and important lens through which any efforts to improve cybersecurity should be viewed”.
Principle No. 2 says that “[efforts] to improve cybersecurity must properly reflect the borderless, interconnected, and global nature of today’s cyber environment”. ITI goes on to explain that policies that comply with this principle will improve interoperability of digital infrastructure by making it easier to align security practices and technologies across borders, while also facilitating international trade in cybersecurity products and services across multiple markets.
Interestingly, the ITI also refers to the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which it notes “calls for non-discrimination in the preparation, adoption, and application of technical regulations, standards, [and] avoiding unnecessary obstacles to trade”. The Clean Network initiative as currently formulated is the exact anti-thesis of these principles.
It also stands in marked contrast to that of the European Union, a major US trading partner and geopolitical ally. In early 2020, the EU announced a “5G toolbox” to guide regulators on how to secure 5G communications networks as they are being launched. By adopting the 5G toolbox, EU Member States have committed to “move forward in a joint manner based on an objective assessment of identified risks and proportionate mitigating measures.”
The EU’s 5G toolbox calls on member states to strengthen security requirements for mobile networks, assess the risk profile of suppliers based solely on security grounds and objective criteria, and to ensure that the 5G ecosystem consists of a healthy plurality of competing suppliers by requiring operators to have an appropriate multi-vendor strategy (i.e. that they source equipment and technologies from at least two and ideally three or more vendors).
The EU’s concerns about 5G network security are based on the critical role that communications networks and data play in modern economies. Nowhere do the EU specifications call for the arbitrary and discriminatory singling out and banning of equipment vendors based in China.
A better approach to securing 5G networks and equipment is one developed by the global industry itself. The Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme (NESAS) was created by GSMA, an industry organisation representing more than 750 mobile network operators worldwide; and by 3GPP, an umbrella organization of seven standards-setting organizations, which develop protocols for mobile telecommunications.
NESAS articulates many of the internationally accepted security requirements that network equipment vendors must comply with, and it lays out a blueprint for independently verifying compliance with ISO requirements. Nowhere is there any provision for excluding a product simply because the company that manufactured it happened to be headquartered in a country that has fallen out of favour with the United States executive branch, or with certain members of Congress.
The Clean Network initiative actually makes it less likely the that United States will adopt any of the demonstrably effective steps it could take to improve network security. These steps require a multi-stakeholder approach and the active participation of all ecosystem players – including equipment vendors, operators, regulators, businesses, and even individual users.
As commentator David Morris has also pointed out, the current unilateral approach being pursued by the Trump administration risks undermining international cooperation and abandoning the rules-based system of international trade cooperation that the United States has traditionally championed. This is a bad idea, best relegated to the trash heap of history and replaced with more collaborative, more effective approaches that will actually enhance the security of the world’s communications networks.
* The author is Senior Lecturer in International Trade at the University of Adelaide and previously served as Vice-President Trade Facilitation and Market Access at Huawei Technologies in China.
Russia: Summoning of the Russian Ambassador to the EU
European Commission Secretary General Ilze Juhansone and External Action Service Secretary General Stefano Sannino jointly summoned the Ambassador of Russian Federation to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov (pictured) to condemn the decision of the Russian authorities from last Friday (30 April) to ban eight European Union nationals from entering the territory of the Russian Federation.
Ambassador Chizhov was informed of the strong rejection and firm condemnation by the EU institutions and EU member states of this decision, which was purely politically motivated and lacks any legal justification.
Secretaries-General I. Juhansone and S. Sannino also recalled Russia's expulsion of Czech diplomats and the executive order of the Russian Federation of so called “unfriendly states”, expressing their grave concern for the cumulative impact of all these decisions on the relations between the EU and the government of the Russian Federation.
They also noted that the EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response.
Parliament launches the Daphne Caruana Galizia journalism prize
The European Parliament has launched a journalism prize in tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia (pictured), a Maltese investigative journalist murdered in 2017.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, launched on 16 October 2020, the third anniversary of her death, will reward outstanding journalism reflecting EU values.
"The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize will recognize the essential role that journalists play in preserving our democracies and serve as a reminder to citizens of the importance of a free press. This prize is designed to help journalists in the vital and often dangerous work they do and show that the European Parliament supports investigative journalists," said Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala.
Prize money of €20,000
The €20,000 annual prize will be awarded as of October 2021 to journalists or teams of journalists based in the European Union. Candidates and the eventual laureate will be chosen by an independent panel.
Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?
Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist who reported extensively on corruption, money laundering, organised crime, sale of citizenship and the Maltese government’s links to the Panama Papers. Following harassment and threats, she was murdered in a car bomb explosion on 16 October 2017.
The outcry over the authorities’ handling of her murder investigation ultimately prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Critical of failings in the investigation, in December 2019, MEPs called on the European Commission to take action.
Published on 28 April, the report Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists from the Council of Europe lists 201 serious violations of media freedom in 2020. This figure marks a 40% increase from 2019 and is the highest figure recorded since the platform was established in 2014. A record number of alerts concerned physical assault (52 cases) and harassment or intimidation (70 cases).
Parliament strongly advocates the importance of a free press. In a May 2018 resolution, MEPs called on EU countries to ensure adequate public funding and to promote a pluralist, independent and free media. Parliament has once again underlined the importance of media freedom in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch this Facebook live interview about the Daphne Caruana Galizia Journalism Prize.
Find out more
Brexit barriers in focus as Northern Ireland's DUP kicks off leadership contest
Northern' Ireland's biggest party was set for its first ever leadership election after its Westminster chief Jeffrey Donaldson threw his hat into the ring, promising to focus on the divisive issue of post-Brexit trade barriers.
Donaldson will stand against Edwin Poots to lead the Democratic Unionist Party at a time of heightened instability in the British province and unionist anger over the installation of a customs border in the Irish Sea.
Both Donaldson and Poots, Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, stopped short of making detailed campaign promises. But Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe will be watching for any hardening of stances on Brexit or social issues including abortion that could alter the political balance ahead of elections next year.
The DUP currently leads Northern Ireland in a power-sharing government with its Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein.
Donaldson or Poots will take over the leadership from Arlene Foster who announced last week she was stepping down as Northern Ireland's First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from party members unhappy at her leadership. Read more
Her departure has added to instability in the region, where angry young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks, partly over the barriers that they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.
"I will develop and swiftly implement an agreed programme of meaningful reform and clear policy direction on key challenges like the protocol," Donaldson said in a video announcement, referring to the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Like Foster, Donaldson, 58, is a former member of the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party. He was part of the negotiating team that stuck a deal to prop up the government of former British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017.
Once the DUP's support was no longer needed, May's successor Boris Johnson broke the party's "blood red line" and agreed to erect the trade barriers.
Poots, 55, is one of a number of DUP ministers who have protested against the Brexit arrangements by refusing to attend meetings with Irish counterparts established under the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.
Poots, a young earth creationist who rejects the theory of evolution, announced he was standing last week.
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